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Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler concentrates on the puck during team practice in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, May 12, 2011. The Canucks have advanced to the NHL Western Conference final which begins on Sunday in Vancouver. (GEOFF HOWE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Kesler concentrates on the puck during team practice in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday, May 12, 2011. The Canucks have advanced to the NHL Western Conference final which begins on Sunday in Vancouver. (GEOFF HOWE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canucks making memories Add to ...

In 40 years of NHL history, the Vancouver Canucks have been short on success, making just two trips to the Stanley Cup final, and getting to Game 7 there once.

While many NHL fan bases can point to the glory days and the indelible memory of a captain hoisting the silver chalice, there is no such visual on West Coast.

To know that is to understand why the 1982 and 1994 teams are so lionized in British Columbia, even though they fell just shy of the ultimate prize. And to know that is to also understand that the current group of Canucks can cement legacies unlike any players who have come before them.

That wasn't lost on team captain Henrik Sedin on Thursday.

He has played alongside teammates, most notably Trevor Linden, who were there in 1994, when Vancouver lost the Cup final to the New York Rangers in seven games. Since he and brother Daniel crossed the Atlantic more than a decade ago, they've played in the presence of Canucks executive Stan Smyl, the beloved captain of the underdog 1982 team, which was swept by the dynastic New York Islanders in the final.

"If we want to be remembered as great players, we're going to have to go further," Henrik Sedin said. "There are a lot of guys in the same boat, and that makes it more rewarding to be where we are right now."

The Canucks begin the Western Conference final Sunday on home ice at Rogers Arena. It is just the third time the franchise has reached the third round of the playoffs, and it has done so with a core group of players, and a coach, who count at least a half-decade of service with the team.

Should they emerge as NHL champions this spring, the community will build statues of them, and hold them as near and dear as any player in club history. And each of them will have personal legacies that will be told and retold to future generations of Canuck fans.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin

At first, they were too soft and too slow to make in the NHL. Then, they became decent complementary players, but playoff flunkies. Phase 3 was a recognition that they were steady point-producers, just not front-line stars. Now, after back-to-back scoring championships, and perhaps the same with league MVP awards, the Sedins are bona fide superstars without the postseason success to match. As they enter the conference final for the first time in their careers, Henrik was asked if it matters to the twins how history regards them. "For sure," he said. "It's mattered to us for a few years now, since we've been the go-to guys."

Roberto Luongo

He has taken the torch from Martin Brodeur as the next great Canadian goaltender, and he has an Olympic gold medal in his trophy case. Luongo has long been regarded as one of the best puck-stoppers on the planet, but it came with a huge footnote. Nobody blamed him for a lack of postseason success with the Florida Panthers, but in Vancouver, he has been the goalie who couldn't get past the second round. Implosions against the Chicago Blackhawks in each of the last two years have not helped the reputation. His fellow Quebeckers, Brodeur and Patrick Roy, both won multiple Cups. Luongo needs at least one if he wants to stand in that company.

Alain Vigneault

He is the longest-tenured bench boss among Canadian NHL teams. A former coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and a well-regarded coach at the junior level in his hometown of Ottawa-Gatineau, Vigneault can become the first French Canadian coach to win the Cup since the late Pat Burns in 2003. And if so, he'll forever work the banquet circuit with his story of perseverance. He was never the most talented player, but eked out 42 NHL games and found a way to stay in the game. After being fired by the Habs, he returned to the bus trips of the QMJHL and AHL before getting a second NHL shot with the Canucks in 2006.

Ryan Kesler

He has been called the best American-born player today, and he should one day captain the Red, White and Blue at a best-on-best tournament. His get-on-my-back series against the Nashville Predators will be remembered forever, regardless of whether the Canucks win a Cup. Already a fan favourite, Kesler is burrowing deeper into the hearts of the faithful, and he is growing his personal brand across the larger hockey world. If he wins a championship this spring, then one of the NHL's best two-way forwards may no longer need the qualifier "two-way."

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